‘Rise of the Guardians’ Review
I can only take so much. I approach a family-friendly film with as open of a heart as possible, but when hit in the face with the shovel of whimsy and wonderment and wide-eyed optimism over and over and over again, eventually, I have to strike back. Sorry, 'Rise of the Guardians' - there's a lot that is admirable in you, particularly some of your design work, but you brought this on yourself.
In an act of darkest cynicism, the Hollywood dream peddlers have found a way to maximize profit off of another superhero team-up. This time the characters every kid's already heard of are public domain IPs, together again for the first time. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Sandman (who I guess kids know, I suppose) team up with Jack Frost in a madcap race to run across as many rooftops and spin around in 3D while saving the status quo and reminding children to reject logic and believe in saviors that, in reality, never come.
Their villain is The Boogeyman (you can almost hear the dart being flung at the board) and his evil scheme is to snuff out kids' belief in our assembled heroes. If our "Guardians" lose their ratings, they lose their powers - although their powers, as far as I can tell, is just to bribe kids with candy and trinkets to maintain this cycle of belief. Jack Frost, the newcomer to the group, is about as hungry for fame as a second-tier Kardashian, relishing in the glow of celebrity when "the last believing boy" actually says his name.
Even craftier is how Santa Claus is portrayed as a boisterous Russian, enabling the film to better ensnare the children of the emerging BRIC nations. The Tooth Fairy is also vaguely South Asian, which certainly makes for some pretty backdrops, but her attitude is far more Beverly Hills than Bangalore. Nevertheless, the imagery is dazzling. The colors burst, the characters zip and everyone swoops, swings and sparkles. In between action sequences they talk endlessly about . . . I dunno. . . something noble, no doubt. Most of the kids in the theater I saw it in took these insufferable talking parts as an opportunity to ask for candy.
'Rise of the Guardians' is, on a quite literal level, not for me. I am not a child, nor do I have any nostalgia for the characters at play. As a non-Christian, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were not part of my upbringing. I did receive a gift for a pulled tooth, and even had a special pillow to put it in, but my caring parents had enough respect for me to explain that "the Tooth Fairy" was a concept of make-believe, and they put the dollar bill in after I went to sleep. (Sandman and Jack Frost didn't get any play in our house, either. Maybe they did in yours.)
If 'Rise of the Guardians' concluded with some "believe in yourselves/your family/your community" mumbo-jumbo maybe I'd be a little more forgiving, but it totally whiffs on this. It ends with Jack Frost, looking directly in the camera, telling kids to "believe in the Guardians" so they'll protect them from the Boogeyman. What utter garbage, and what an insult to children in actual peril who could use the aid of a real live human being.
In addition to the bright palate and spectacular design, there's a part of me that has tremendous respect for 'Rise of the Guardians'' crassness. If you want to indoctrinate your youngster with middle class values, this is as good a place as any to start. Also, the yuckster in me can't deny that having the personification of bad dreams being black horses ("Night Mares") was a nice touch, too.
'Rise of the Guardians' opens in theaters on November 21.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.